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MTP 2018 Rundown Blog: Latest news, analysis and data driving the midterms

Smart political reporting and analysis for the 2018 midterm elections, including data points, interesting national trends, short updates and more from the NBC News political unit.

The Rundown

Pro-Trump super PAC drops first ad in NY-22

America First Action, which promotes candidates who back President Trump's agenda, is out with a new spot attacking Democrat Anthony Brindisi as an "Albany politician" too liberal for voters to choose in his race against Republican Rep. Claudia Tenney. 

The spot, the first for the group in this race, is a negative spot aimed at Brindisi that doesn't mention either Tenney or Trump. 

"Meet liberal Anthony Brindisi, another Albany politician who thinks government knows best," the ad says. 

It goes onto accuse Brindisi of "supporting socialized-style single-payer" health care while at the state legislature and for backing a bill "making it easier for illegal immigrants to go to college on New York taxpayers' dime."

The spot closes by linking Brindisi to both New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. 

America First has already booked $390,000 of television time in the state, and a spokesperson for the group told NBC News it expects to spend a total of $542,000 in the district, including on television, digital spots, mail pieces and other spending. 

The attacks in the ad echo those levied by Tenney and her allies during the campaign.

While Brindisi voted for a single-payer program while in the New York legislature, he's said he doesn't support a siimlar plan at the national level yet. He told a New York NPR affiliate in August that he preferred to work on other health care fixes before discussing whether single-payer could work on a large scale. 

He also helped to sponsor a state version of the DREAM Act, which gives undocumented immigrants access to financial aid. Tenney's campaign blasted the vote earlier this year in a statement as a vote to "put illegal immigrants first."

Both Tenney and Brindisi are locked in a tough fight in one of New York's most competitive congressional districts. A Siena College poll last month found the race within the margin of error, with Brindisi holding a slight, 2-point lead. 

Coons: Democrats could investigate Kavanaugh if they flip Senate

Delaware Democratic Sen. Chris Coons, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, wouldn't rule out Democrats further investigating the sexual assault allegations against Judge Brett Kavanaugh if the party is able to take control of Congress after the November elections.

"If he's confirmed, and these allegation are not treated fully and fairly and investigated, then there will be a cloud over Judge Kavanaugh's service on the Supreme Court," he said.

When host Katy Tur followed up by noting that Coons didn't dismiss the idea of a future investigation, Coons replied: "That's right. I did not say no."

Coons took issue with comments from Republicans who have labeled the allegations as part of a "smear campaign," rhetoric used by both Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Utah Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch. He said that language is "not what's appropriate" and argued that the reaction proves why "so many victims of sexual abuse and harassment don't come forward."

Kavanaugh was first accused of sexual assault earlier this month by Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, who says the incident took place while they were both high school students. And on Sunday, the New Yorker publicized another allegation, from Deborah Ramirez, a Yale University classmate who says he exposed himself to her at a party.

The judge has vigorously denied both allegations, saying in an interview with Fox News slated to air Monday evening that he would not step aside from the nomination.

"I'm not going to let false accusations drive us out of this process and we're looking for a fair process where I can be heard and defend my integrity, my lifelong record — my lifelong record of promoting dignity and equality for women starting with the women who knew me what I was 14 years old," Kavanaugh told Fox News.

On Monday, Republican staffers on the Senate Judiciary Committee reached out to Ramirez's attorney for a preliminary inquiry. But it's unclear whether she will testify in front of Congress, like Blasey Ford is on Thursday.

NBC News/ WSJ Poll: Just 19 percent of voters view socialism positively

Despite some well-publicized victories by self-described Democratic socialists in Democratic primary races up and down the ballot this midterm cycle, fewer than one in five Americans have a positive view of socialism, according to a new national NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll.

The survey, which included 900 registered voters, found that fully half of voters — 52 percent — have a negative view of socialism, compared with just 19 percent who view it positively.

But when asked about their feelings towards capitalism, 52 percent of voters said they felt positively, while just 18 percent said they view it negatively.

Rhetoric about the progressive embrace of Democratic socialism intensified in 2016, when Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) competitively challenged Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016. Sanders repeatedly referred to himself as a Democratic socialist, describing the movement as one that embraces government that "works for all and not just the few."

That view struck a chord with many of his supporters—and his policy arguments, including slamming the proportion of wealth in the hands of the richest 1 percent of Americans and advocating for a Medicare-for-all program, resonated particularly with younger voters. 

This cycle, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a member of Democratic Socialists of America who has similar policy views to Sanders, defeated an incumbent Republican to win the Democratic nomination in New York’s 14th Congressional District. She's expected to cruise to victory in November in a safe district and join Congress next year. 

Still, the share of Democrats with a positive view of socialism remains fairly low, with just a third (33 percent) seeing it favorably. Another 27 percent of Democrats say they have negative views of socialism, while 36 percent remain neutral.

Among Republicans, 83 percent have a negative view of socialism compared with just 6 percent who view it positively.

In contrast, seventy percent of Republican voters and 40 percent of Democratic voters feel positively about capitalism. About one-in-five Democrats (22 percent) view capitalism negatively.

Among Democrats who feel positively about socialism, a plurality — 33 percent — are under 35, compared with just 19 percent who are seniors.

Democrats viewing socialism positively are also overwhelmingly white. More than seven-in-ten (71 percent) are white, compared with just nine percent who are Latino and 15 percent who are black.

In the next six weeks before the 2018 midterm elections, competing economic philosophies will dominate debate landscapes.

The NBC/WSJ poll was conducted September 16-19 of 900 voters. Approximately half of respondents were reached by cell phone. The margin of error for the poll was plus-minus 3.3 percent.

 

House battlefield polling update

Thanks to the fascination with the race for the House, there's been a rash of solid, early and independent polling of key congressional races. 

Democrats will need to net a flip of at least 23 seats to take control of the House majority after the November elections. And as you've seen from our battlefield analysis, Democrats have significantly more offensive opportunities than Democrats do. 

Here's a round-up of what some of the independent polling from this month shows in the NBC Political Unit's "Top 25" pickup opportunities, as well as results from the "Next 25" for Democrats and the top GOP pickup opportunities. 

Just one or two recent data points in each race won't tell the whole story—the margin-of-error in most of these surveys hovers around 5 percentage points and some campaigns have released their own internal polling showing tighter margins. 

But the independent polls provide a helpful glimpse at how the race for the majority is shaping up at this point.  

Top 25 

In the 13 races polled, Republicans lead in seven districts, Democrats lead in five, and the candidates are tied in one. 

Next 25

In the nine races polled, Republicans lead in seven, Democrats lead in one, and NJ-07 has two polls with differing top-lines. 

Best GOP pickup opportunities

Biden: 'More than one way' to change the political climate

As Joe Biden steps up campaigning for Democrats across the country ahead of the midterm elections, every statement is being dissected for potential clues about whether he will launch a run for president in 2020. But it was his wife may have offered the biggest hint Friday.

Asked by NBC’s Craig Melvin what she would say if her husband came to her in the coming months and said he wanted to be president, Jill Biden offered this: "I'd say, ‘Joe, you would make a great president. But let’s think about it.'" 

Both Bidens, in an interview on "Today" to discuss Friday’s Biden Cancer Summit, reflected on how their son’s death of brain cancer influenced the former vice president’s decision not to run in 2016, and may still be a factor in 2020.

"I regret not being president. But it was the right decision," Joe Biden said, a sentiment his wife immediately echoed. 

"No man or woman should go out and say I’m running for president unless they can look you in the eye and say you have my whole heart, my whole soul and all my emotion," he said. "Beau has left a gigantic hole in our hearts, for our whole family."

Joe Biden said that he "desperately want[ed] to change the landscape" in the country now, but that "there’s more than one way to do it."

"There’s a lot of really talented people we have out there: Kamala Harris, you got Cory Booker, you’ve got the former [governor] of Massachusetts. You’ve got a lot of talented people," he said. "We have to stop this degradation of the system that’s going on. That’s why I’m campaigning all over the country."

Biden predicted Democrats would not only win back the House, but also the U.S. Senate this year. This month he has campaigned for candidates in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Michigan. Next week he’s expected to travel to South Carolina – one of the first four states in the presidential nominating process and a potentially significant one for him.

"If there were a primary here next week in South Carolina, and Joe Biden were in the primary, he would win it — going away," Rep. James Clyburn, the longtime Democratic congressman from South Carolina, told NBC in June.  

Two tough Democratic Senate ads focus on opioid epidemic

Majority Forward, a major Democratic outside group, is launching two new spots that punch at two Republicans—West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey and Tennessee Rep. Marsha Blackburn—on the opioid crisis. 

Both new television ads are part of existing seven-figure buys in the state—the group has $1.3 million booked in West Virginia and $3.5 million booked in Tennessee from Friday through Election Day. 

The West Virginia spot includes a firefighter and paramedic in the state recounting stories of responding to overdoses in the state while criticizing Morrisey for his past work lobbying for drug companies. 

"I don't think Patrick Morrisey wants to see what hell's been wrought by drug companies he lobbied for," the man says.

"How can you trust someone who got rich while West Virginians suffered?"

And the Tennessee ad accuses a Blackburn bill for neutering the Drug Enforcement Agency in the fight against illegal drugs.

"Blackburn's what's wrong with Washington," the ad says. 

These attacks have been central to the Democratic push against the two candidates, as they look to connect with voters' personal experiences with the epidemic that has hit both states hard. 

Morrisey's drug lobbying past (as well as his wife's) was an issue during the primary election too as opponents sought to link him to the devastating epidemic in the state. He argued during debates that he didn't work on opioid issues specifically and Republicans have also raised the connections of his opponent, Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin, to Mylan Pharmaceuticals. 

""Washington liberals will do anything to distract from Manchin's record of being asleep at the switch as the drug epidemic took root in West Virginia. Morrisey has been a national leader in combating the drug epidemic, reaching record settlements, and forcing the DEA to crack down on the supply of illicit drugs," Morrisey spokesman Nathan Brand said in a statement.

The attack against Blackburn has also been levied by her opponent, Democratic former Gov. Phil Bredesen. It centers on her support for a bill at the center of a Washington Post and CBS "60 Minutes" expose that blamed the bill for tying the DEAs hands behind its back in its push to fight drug trafficking.

Supporters of the bill say it had been initially intended to make sure no one would lose access to pain medication unnecessarily. But after the story broke last year, Blackburn's office told The Tennessean that she wants to "immediately" address "unintended consequences from this bipartisan legislation." And as PolitiFact noted, she now supports a bill that rolls back those changes. 

"As a mother, grandmother and friend, Marsha understands how deeply the opioid epidemic is hurting Tennessee families. She regularly meets with victims, healthcare providers, and law enforcements officers across the state to discuss steps the federal government should take to end the opioid epidemic. Recently, she introduced bipartisan bills to increase civil and criminal penalties for bad actors and give law enforcement the tools they need," Blackburn spokeswoman Abbi Sigler said in a statement. 

"While Democrats point fingers and politicize a public health crisis, Marsha will continue to work toward a systemic solution that includes a tough stance on the distribution of illicit opioids and improves prevention and recovery efforts."

UPDATED to include statements from the Morrisey and Blackburn campaigns. 

CLF reserves another $13 million on TV ads, adds five more House races to target list

The Congressional Leadership Fund is investing another $13 million in television ads aimed at defending GOP-held seats across the country, all while expanding its reach into five new congressional districts.  

CLF is already the biggest outside advertising spender in the battle for the House majority thanks to a massive fundraising effort, and the new reservations bring the group to a total of $85 million in television advertising reservations alone. 

But the vast majority of that money is being spent on playing defense, and four of the five new targeted districts are currently held by Republicans. That expansion underscores the volatility of the House battlefield in November, where Democrats are mounting efforts in districts that previously seemed off limits. 

CLF's expanding map brings new spending to defend Illinois Rep. Rodney Davis, Michigan Rep. Fred Upton and North Carolina Rep. George Holding. It also added Nevada's 3rd Congressional District and New Mexico's 2nd Congressional District to the list as well, where Republicans Danny Tarkanian and Yvette Herrell are running respectively in open seats. Tarkanian's seat is the only one of the new additions that is currently held by a Democrat—Rep. Jacky Rosen is vacating the seat to run for Senate. 

The group also added advertising spending to the following districts—CA-10; CA-39; CA-45; IL-12; KS-02; NY-19; NY-22; VA-07; TX-07; and WI-01. 

So far, the group has primarily ran ads meant to disqualify Democratic candidates one-by-one with negative ads. In a recent memo, the group argued that it's efforts to protect Kentucky GOP Rep. Andy Barr has been effective because its internal polling has chipped away at the favorability of his Democratic opponent, Amy McGrath. That internal polling put Barr up by 4 points, while a New York Times/Siena College poll found Barr up by 1 point. 

Five takeaways on the Senate spending landscape

Money continues to pour into the top-tier Senate races now with less than seven weeks before Election Day, with Democrats outspending Republicans in a majority of the battleground races. 

Here are a few takeaways from our analysis of TV and radio spending from Advertising Analytics of these top races (the spending is for the general election, from when the primary concluded in each state through September 20). 

  • Democrats lead in seven of the top 12 races, according to TV and radio spending figures from Advertising Analytics, while Republicans lead in four of those races. The two parties are tied in West Virginia.
  • There isn’t a single red-state Democrat — Heitkamp, Manchin, Tester, McCaskill or Donnelly — who’s being outspent right now.
  • After being outspent over the airwaves by about 50-to-1 back in May, Democrats are now close to parity in Florida.
  • In New Jersey, Hugin and Republicans are outspending incumbent Sen. Bob Menendez and Democrats by more than 2-to-1.

  • And in Texas, Beto O’Rourke is outspending Ted Cruz and Republicans by more than 3-to-1.

There's also a lot to learn from spending in some key states that AREN'T competitive this cycle. 

In Pennsylvania, Democrats are outspending Republicans by a 4-to-1 margin; in Ohio, it’s a 13-to-1 margin; and in Michigan, it’s a whopping 1,000-to-1 margin.

No wonder those races aren’t competitive.

Here's the spending breakdown in the 12 battleground races (the largest spender is in parenthesis, followed by the three less competitive races. And check out the graphic below for a round-up of the top overall Senate advertisers through September 20 from Advertising Analytics:

AZ: GOP $4.3 million, Dem 4.0 million (Majority Forward – D: $1.9 million)

FL: GOP $11.3 million, Dem $8.4 million (Rick Scott camp – R: $7.1 million)

IN: Dem $14.1 million, GOP $12.2 million (Senate Majority PAC – D: $7.6 million)

MO: Dem $13.9 million, GOP $12.6 million (McCaskill camp – D: $5.5 million)

MT: Dem $7.5 million, GOP $5.6 million (Tester camp – D: $2.9 million)

NV: Dem $13.3 million, GOP $12.2 million (One Nation – R: $5.7 million)

NJ: GOP $9.7 million, Dem $4.2 million (Hugin campaign – R: $8.5 million)

ND: Dem $6.0 million, GOP $5.8 million (Heitkamp camp – D: $2.5 million)

TN: GOP $9.0 million, Dem $6.0 million (Majority Forward – D: $3.1 million)

TX: Dem $7.3 million, GOP $2.1 million (O'Rourke camp – D: $7.3 million)

WV: GOP $8.2 million, Dem $8.2 million (Senate Majority PAC – D: $5.0 million)

MI: Dem $2.8 million, GOP $2,700 (Stabenow camp – D: $2.8 million) 1000-1

OH: Dem $6.2 million, GOP $491,000 (Brown camp – D: $6.2 million) 13-1

PA: Dem $2.7 million, GOP $681,000 (Casey camp – D: $2.7 million) 4-1

Advertising Analytics
Carrie Dann

Poll: Major gaps in views of women in politics by gender, party affiliation

As the #MeToo movement continues to reverberate around the nation’s boardrooms — and now, the Senate Judiciary Committee’s hearing room — a new survey shows that party affiliation and gender play a significant role in views of women in positions of power in politics and business.

The poll from the Pew Research Center finds that nearly six-in-ten Americans overall say that there are too few women in political office and in positions of business leadership. But just about a third of Republicans believe women are underrepresented in politics (33 percent), while 79 percent of Democrats agree. Among all men, about half — 48 percent — say there are too few women in politics, while 69 percent of women agree with that statement.

Republicans are also less than half as likely than Democrats to say that gender discrimination is a major reason why there aren’t more women in politics. Just 30 percent of Republicans cite discrimination as a major factor, while 64 percent of Democrats do the same. Among men and women, there’s a similar divide, with 36 percent of men and 59 percent of women saying gender discrimination affects female participation in politics.

Perhaps most striking are the divisions within the Republican Party by gender when it comes to Republicans’ views of women in positions of power. Republican women are more likely than their male counterparts to say that there are too few women in politics by a 20 point margin, 44 percent to 24 percent. That’s compared with 73 percent of Democratic men and 84 percent of Democratic women.

A majority of Republican women — 62 percent — say it is easier for men than it is for women to get elected to political office, while 48 percent of GOP men say the same.

Asked if gender discrimination is a major factor in why there aren’t more women in politics, 48 percent of Republican women agree, while just 14 percent of GOP men say the same.

The study comes as an unprecedented number of women, the majority of them Democrats, are running for federal and statewide offices in the midterm elections. And it comes as Republicans face the treacherous task of addressing a decades-old claim of sexual assault against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh without alienating female voters, whose support for the GOP has eroded further in the Trump era.

Despite Democrats’ selection of Hillary Clinton as the first female nominee of a major political party in 2016 — or perhaps because of her surprise loss to Donald Trump — women are actually less optimistic now that voters are ready to elect women to higher office.

Forty-five percent of all Americans now cite reluctance to elect women as a major barrier to female political leadership, up from 37 percent in 2014. And that increase in pessimism has occurred almost entirely among women. A majority of women — 57 percent – now credit voter wariness of female candidates for the dearth of women in positions of political power, up from 41 percent four years ago. The share of men who say the same — about a third — is virtually unchanged in the same period of time.

Mark Murray

Tracking TV ad spending in top Dem House pickup districts

Earlier this cycle, NBC News identified the top 25 House districts that could be pickup opportunities for Democrats.

To date, Democrats have the TV and radio ad spending advantage in 12 of those 25 districts, while Republicans lead in nine. Four have no general election spending yet at all.

Here’s the full list of general election ad spending to date by party, including both candidate spending and outside groups. (The list is in alphabetical order).

Biden reflects on Anita Hill case amid Kavanaugh accusations

Joe Biden's handling of the Anita Hill case as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee during the Clarence Thomas nomination has received increased scrutiny amid new allegations against Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh.

But the former vice president is highlighting what he sees as progress since that 1991 battle.

Speaking to reporters after an event Monday, Biden said that his committee had "over 1,000 hours of hearings" on the issue of sexual assault after Thomas's controversial nomination advanced despite Hill's testimony that he had harassed her. That process helped inform his thinking about how to address the issue and could be relevant to Kavanaugh now.

"The impact of an assault, however you define assault, has—like everything else in life—different impacts on different women and men," Biden told reporters at the Irish Embassy in Washington, according to footage from the Irish broadcaster RTE.

It's a similar explanation to one Biden offered earlier this year in an interview on the "Pod Save America" podcast.

"The thing that we should be recognizing about Anita Hill was she was the first woman to stand up before the nation, knowing she was going to be vilified, and raise the issue of harassment," he said on the podcast. "When that hearing was all over I said that I think this is the one thing that was done here, is that we have sensitized the entire nation to the issue of harassment. She did. And that's when – that helped me significantly in getting the Violence Against Women Act passed."

Biden said Monday that he did not know enough about the specific accusations against Kavanaugh from Christine Blasey Ford.

But he told the Washington Post at the embassy event that the discussion "brings back all of the complicated issues that were there" in the Hill case. And he defended Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee now, for having withheld Ford's accusations—which she had previously said she hoped would remain anonymous—until this late stage.

"Dianne's getting beat up now for why didn't she go forward," Biden said. "The one thing that's not said is, of all the progress we've made in the country, #Metoo, you still have the fundamental question of, what is the individual's right to come forward or not to come forward?"

Eyeing 2020, Jeff Merkley hires up in Iowa and New Hampshire

Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., who has made a number of recent trips to early presidential primary and caucus states, is hiring staff in Iowa and New Hampshire to help candidates running in this year's midterm election.

Merkely's PAC, the Blue Wave Project, is looking hire several field organizers and other operatives in the two early-voting primary states, according to a job posting shared with NBC News and confirmed by a spokesperson. One staffer is already on the ground in Iowa through November to help Democratic candidates, including JD Scholten, who is challenging Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa.

It's another sign that Merkley, a progressive who was the only senator to endorse Bernie Sanders in the 2016 presidential race, is a eyeing a run for himself in 2020. He visited New Hampshire last weekend and plans to  address the Iowa Steak Fry, a classic stop for Democratic White House hopefuls, later this month. Merkley's PAC has endorsed candidates across the country and each one receives at least $2,500 and staff support.

Other potential 2020 candidates, including Sens. Cory Booker, D-N.J. and Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., have also reportedly deployed staff to Iowa or New Hampshire to help candidates in this year's elections. It's a common move for ambitious politicians, since aides can gain important on-the-ground knowledge and contacts should their bosses decide to run.

Wisconsin Democrat Randy Bryce's brother tells voters to back the GOP in new ad

The brother of Wisconsin Democrat Randy Bryce, who is running for the seat being vacated by House Speaker Paul Ryan, stars in a new GOP ad that calls on voters to support Bryce's GOP opponent. 

In the new Congressional Leadership Fund spot, police officer James Bryce connects violence against law enforcement with "cop-hating rhetoric," before pivoting to call his brother "someone who's shown contempt for those in law enforcement."

"I don't think people want to be represented by someone who's shown contempt for those in law enforcement," James Bryce says in the spot. 

"That's one of the many reasons why I'm voting for Bryan Steil for Congress."

As evidence for the claim, the ad points to a 2012 Bryce tweet where he shared a story from The Progressive magazine criticizing police officers for arresting protesters at the Wisconsin state Capitol. Along with sharing the story, Bryce added his own commentary: "When police become the terrorists."

The ad is running as part of CLF's $1.5 million ad buy, which it announced Monday. The first ad it ran in the district also dealt with law enforcement, which highlights Bryce's arrest record

Julia Savel, Bryce's communications director, criticized the ad in a statement that pointed the finger at Ryan for the attack. CLF is allied with Ryan's political operation but cannot coordinate on spending as per campaign finance laws. 

"Randy is the proud son of a police officer and has a deep respect for law enforcement officers, including his brother, even when they have political disagreements. This ad, funded by Paul Ryan and his Washington buddies, shows that Bryan Steil has no solutions for Wisconsin families — so they have to resort to divisive, dirty politics that people are fed up with," Savel said.

"Dark money being used in attack ads paid for by Paul Ryan's Super PAC is about as Washington-style as it gets. Instead of joining Paul Ryan in the gutter, Randy is focused on his plans to help everyone get good healthcare, protect workers' pensions, and save Social Security."

Bryce is running an uphill battle in the GOP-leaning district that President Trump won by about 10 points in 2016. But he's been able to put together a well-funded campaign that's emphasized his background as an iron worker and his family's struggle with health care to paint a picture of an everyman candidate. 

There's been limited independent polling in the race, but a recent New York Times/Siena College poll found Steil up by 6 points.  

Democrats argue Colorado Republican failed on promise to "stand up" to Trump

House Democrats are out with a new television ad that argues Colorado Republican Rep. Mike Coffman has failed on his 2016 promise to "stand up" to President Trump. 

Coffman made waves last August when he ran an ad explicitly breaking from Trump, arguing "I don't care for him much" and declaring he'd "stand up to him" if elected. That message was a heavy part of the Republican incumbent's successful reelection campaign. 

But now the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee wants to use those words against him in a new spot that borrows footage from Coffman's 2016 spot. In it, the ad argues that "Mike Coffman didn’t stand up to Donald Trump, plain and simple."

"Instead, Coffman voted with Trump more than any Colorado member of Congress," the ad's narrator says, pointing to FiveThirtyEight.com analysis that Coffman voted with Trump 95.6 percent of the time. 

NBC News obtained the new DCCC ad ahead of its Tuesday release. It will be the committee's first spot in the Denver media market, where it has plans to spend significantly. Advertising Analytics data shows the group has booked about $2.3 million in ad spending there. 

Coffman is a regular target of Democrats, but he's survived several tight races over the years. This cycle, he's facing off against Army veteran Democrat Jason Crow.

A recent New York Times/Siena College poll found Crow up by 11 points over Coffman, but the race is expected to be one of the tighter ones of the cycle. 

Republicans have long quibbled with those vote scores, since important votes are weighed equally alongside less important ones. And they cite Coffman's vote against the GOP plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act last year as one way he's not afraid to prioritize his constituents over his party. 

Tyler Sandberg, Coffman's campaign manager, told NBC News in a statement that the characterization is a "lie" and argued that Coffman will once again survive Democratic attacks on his way to reelection. 

"It's a phony statistic — a lie – and we are going to make Jason Crow pay for it. Voting for pay raises for the troops, funding for opioid addiction, crossing party lines to keep the government open — these are the votes Crow and Pelosi would have voters believe are a cave to Trump," Sandberg said.

"A little secret for Pelosi: we've swatted down her false attacks before and we are ready to do it again."

The DCCC ad also shows how the group sees a vulnerability for Coffman on health care even despite that "no" vote on the repeal and replace plan. The spot weaponizes Coffman's vote in favor of the GOP's tax cut plan, which contained a repeal of the Affordable Care Act's individual mandate.

The party sees that tax vote as an opening to hammer Coffman on the issue that continues to poll as one of the most important for 2018 midterm voters, even despite his vote against the party's health care plan. 

"Coffman voted for Trump’s tax plan to sabotage our healthcare. He voted for Trump’s tax giveaway, threatening Social Security and Medicare, threatening protections for preexisting conditions," the ad says. 

Coffman has publicly called for a bipartisan approach to readdressing health care and joined 27 GOP lawmakers last week on a resolution calling on Congress to protect care for those with preexisting conditions

UPDATED: This post was updated to include comment from Coffman's campaign. 

Voting for midterms begins on Friday

Actual voting begins this Friday for the 2018 general election, when Minnesota, South Dakota, Vermont and Wyoming all start their absentee and early balloting. And New Jersey starts on Saturday. 

Here’s a full calendar – compiled by the NBC Political Unit – when absentee and early in-person voting begins in each state.

Friday, September 21

  • Minnesota: In-person absentee voting begins, offers no-excuse absentee voting (Ends November 5)
  • South Dakota: In-person absentee voting begins, offers no-excuse absentee voting (Ends November 5)
  • Vermont: In-person absentee voting begins, offers no-excuse absentee voting (Ends November 5)
  • Wyoming: In-person absentee voting begins, offers no-excuse absentee voting (Ends November 5)

Saturday, September 22

  • New Jersey: In-person absentee voting begins, offers no-excuse absentee voting (Ends November 5)

Thursday, September 27

  • Illinois: Early voting begins, offers no-excuse absentee voting (Ends November 5)

Monday, October 8

  • California: Early voting begins, date varies by county. Offers no-excuse absentee voting (Ends November 5)
  • Iowa: In-person absentee voting begins, offers no-excuse absentee voting (Ends November 5)

Tuesday, October 9

  • Montana: In-person absentee voting begins, offers no-excuse absentee voting (Ends November 5) 
  • Nebraska: Early voting begins, offers no-excuse absentee voting (Ends November 2)

Wednesday, October 10

  • Arizona: Early voting begins, offers no-excuse absentee voting (Ends November 2)
  • Indiana: In-person absentee voting begins (Ends November 5)
  • Ohio: Early voting begins, offers no-excuse absentee voting (Ends November 5)

Monday, October 15

  • Georgia: Early voting begins, offers no-excuse absentee voting (Ends November 2)

Wednesday, October 17

  • Kansas: Early voting begins, date varies by county. Offers no-excuse absentee voting (Ends November 5)
  • North Carolina: Early voting begins (Ends November 3)
  • Tennessee: Early voting begins (Ends November 1)

Saturday, October 20

  • Nevada: Early voting begins, offers no-excuse absentee voting (Ends November 2)
  • New Mexico: Early voting begins, offers no-excuse absentee voting (Ends November 3)

Monday, October 22

  • Alaska: Early voting begins, offers no-excuse absentee voting (Ends November 6)
  • Arkansas: Early voting begins (Ends November 5)
  • District of Columbia: In-person absentee voting begins, offers no-excuse absentee voting (Ends November 2)
  • Idaho: In-person absentee voting begins, offers no-excuse absentee voting (Ends November 2)
  • Massachusetts: Early voting begins (Ends November 2)
  • North Dakota: Early voting begins, offers no-excuse absentee voting (Ends November 5)
  • Texas: Early voting begins (Ends November 2)
  • Wisconsin: In-person absentee voting begins, offers no-excuse absentee voting (Ends November 2)

Tuesday, October 23

  • Hawaii: Early voting begins, offers no-excuse absentee voting. (Ends November 3)
  • Louisiana: Early voting begins. (Ends October 30)
  • Utah: Early voting begins, offers no-excuse absentee voting. (Ends November 2)

Wednesday, October 24

  • West Virginia: Early voting begins. (Ends November 3)

Thursday, October 25

  • Maryland: Early voting begins, offers no-excuse absentee voting. (Ends November 1)

Saturday, October 27

  • Florida: Early voting begins, offers no-excuse absentee voting (Ends November 3)

Thursday, November 1

  • Oklahoma: In-person absentee voting begins, offers no-excuse absentee voting. (Ends November 3)

States with All Mail Voting:

  • Oregon: Drop sites must open the Friday before an election, but may open as soon as ballots are available (18 days before)
  • Washington: Vote center must be open 18 days before an election
  • Colorado: Voter service and polling centers must be open 15 days before an election.

EMILY's List plans to eclipse 2016 spending this midterm cycle

EMILY's List, which backs female Democratic candidates who back abortion rights, plans to spend an additional $23 million this midterm cycle, a presidential election-sized effort this pivotal midterm season.

Stephanie Schriock, the organization's president, told reporters Monday that the $23 million in independent expenditures on direct mail as well as digital and television ads will will come on top of the $14 million the group spend during the Democratic primaries.

She believes the effort alone will provide Democrats with at least the 23 seats needed to flip the House. 

"I have all intentions of this institution taking the U.S. House back for the Democrats," Schriock said.

"We have the candidates in place and then some."

The active fall will follow a busy primary season for the group. Data from the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University shows that more women ran for Congress this cycle than in any previous one, with Democrats making up three-quarters of female congressional candidates.

EMILY's List has endorsed 64 candidates on general election ballots for the House this cycle.

The planned $37 million in independent expenditure spending is more than the $33 million its super PAC, Women Vote!, spent in 2016, when the group was supporting Democrat Hillary Clinton's bid to become the first female president.

Many of the EMILY's List candidates are running in tough races in GOP-held territory, and many also sit in expensive media markets that drive up the costs for outside groups, which pay higher rates for television ads than regular candidates.

Schriock said the organization has tough conversations about resource allocation daily and that they are ready to make tough decisions about shifting resources if necessary.

"We are about electing as many women Democrats to Congress and governorships as possible. What does that mean? It means looking at where our resources will have the most direct effect in delivering a victory," she said.

"We will take on a lot of risk, but we have to see a path. There has to be some sort of path. If something collapses on a race, I'm counting on that not happening anywhere," she added, "here's the good news: we've got a hundred other races to engage in rapidly."

Blackburn targets former Bredesen supporters in new ad that calls liberal positions a "non-starter"

Tennessee Republican Rep. Marsha Blackburn is taking aim at her Democratic opponent in the state’s Senate race, former Gov. Phil Bredesen, with a new television spot that targets potential GOP cross-over voters.

Bredesen, who won two terms as governor in 2002 and 2006, will need a coalition that includes his former Republican supporters if he wants to win over a state as red as Tennessee.  The new Blackburn spot, obtained first by NBC News ahead of its Thursday release, talks to those voters specifically by arguing his liberal policies are a "non-starter."

"I voted Phil Bredesen for governor, I supported him, but I can't support Bredesen for Senate," supposed voters take turns saying in the new Blackburn ad

"Bredesen opposes building the wall, he supports ObamaCare. Bredesen opposed Trump's tax cuts, that's a non-starter for me."

The voters go on to hammer Bredesen for ties to Washington Democrats, including one woman audibly groaning in disgust after another says Bredesen gave "Crooked Hillary tons of money."  

During the 2016 election, Bredesen gave $2,700 to Democrat Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign and $33,400 to the Hillary Victory Fund, her campaign's joint fundraising committee with the national party and state parties.

Blackburn allies have long argued that Bredesen is too liberal for a state that President Trump won by 26 points in 2016. Most of Blackburn's advertising dollars during the general election so far have been spent on ads looking to appeal to the partisan side of Tennesseans, amplifying Trump's praise of her and his criticism of Bredesen during a recent swing through Tennessee.  Bredesen has sought to counter that with ads that keep partisan politics at arms reach—one recent television ad from the Democrat brushes aside partisan attacks as "flat out lies" from Washington, while a digital ad from earlier this year includes the Democrat speaking directly to camera to say "I'm not running against Donald Trump, I'm running for a Senate seat" and arguing that he will back Trump when he has good ideas for Tennessee. 

The two candidates have been locked in a tight battle in a state that hasn't elected a Democratic senator in almost thirty years. Bredesen held a two-point lead, within the margin of error, in the August NBC/Marist poll of the race. Both candidates had overwhelming support from voters within their own parties, with Bredesen holding a 4 point lead with independents. 

 

Democrats dropping $21 million on Senate digital ads largely targeting health care

The battle for the airwaves continues to heat up, this time with two Democratic groups announcing $21 million in digital advertising targeting Senate races in nine states. 

Senate Majority PAC and Priorities USA are joining together to spend almost $18 million on digital ads in Arizona, Florida, Indiana, Missouri and North Dakota, while SMP will dump another $3 million into digital ads in Montana, Nevada, Tennessee and West Virginia. 

It's a massive outlay of ad spending, coming one day after the top GOP Senate super PAC announced more than $6 million in television, radio and digital advertising. 

The joint SMP/Priorities USA ads in ArizonaFlorida, and Missouri center on health care, which is quickly becoming one of the top issues for Democratic candidates this cycle. Indiana Republican Mike Braun gets hit with attacks about his company's use of Chinese suppliers, while North Dakota GOP Rep. Kevin Cramer is criticized with a laundry list of Democratic attacks on his record.  

SMP did not release specific details about the content of its separate digital ad buy, but said that "many" of the ads overall will deal with health care. 

So far this cycle, SMP has been the top outside spender of either party on ads. It's spent almost $40 million through Wednesday, according to data from Advertising Analytics, and has more advertising dollars booked from now through Election Day than any other outside group. 

NRCC drops flurry of ads in race for the House majority

The National Republican Congressional Committee opened the advertising floodgates Wednesday with the  release of a dozen new television ads in key House races.

The spots are all attack ads, a strategy that lines up with our First Read analysis from earlier this week which noted that Republicans have made it clear that their main focus is to disqualify candidates one-by-one.

Until Labor Day, outside groups like the Congressional Leadership Fund had been handling that dirty work, with the NRCC largely keeping its powder dry in general election matchups. But, no longer. 

While the NRCC has been outraised by its Democratic counterparts, it still has a boatload of cash to help the GOP hold the House. Through July, the group reported having almost $68 million in the bank, and ad-spending figures from Advertising Analytics shows the NRCC booked more than $44 million in advertising from Labor Day through Election Day. Democrats plan to spend heavily too—the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has more than $50 million in ad-time booked over the same period. 

Here's a quick rundown of the targets and the main lines of attack the GOP are using in the current ad blitz: 

  • Texas-32: The new spot hits Democrat Gina Ortiz Jones for having lived in Washington, where she worked in the U.S. Trade Representative's office under both former President Obama and briefly under President Trump, before moving back to Texas ahead of her congressional run.  
  • Texas-07This attack on Democrat Lizzie Pannill Fletcher attempts to kill two birds with one stone, dropping some opposition research from her time as a lawyer defending a company in an oil spill while lobbing the typical bombs at Fletcher for being too liberal and supporting House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.
  • Minnesota-03: Democrat Dean Phillips is hit for his opposition to the GOP tax plan and on reports he initially give employees of his coffee shop health care. His campaign has called those attacks misleading, noting there were no full-time employees at the start and that paid those employees high wages so they could afford health care on the individual market. 
  • Minnesota-01: This ad attacking Democrat Dan Feehan links his Milwaukee background to learning "Chicago-style politics" and hits Feehan as a supporter of Pelosi and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. 
  • Minnesota-02: So much for Minnesota nice—this ad attacks Democrat Angie Craig's business record, which was an issue during her 2016 matchup against Republican Rep. Jason Lewis. 
  • New York-19: The new NRCC ad is yet another attack from Republicans on Antonio Delgado's rap career, which has become their top hit in this race. 
  • Virginia-10: Republican Rep. Barbara Comstock gets some welcome attention on her race, where the NRCC just booked almost $5 million in ads in her district.
  • New York-22: The NRCC calls Democrat Anthony Brindisi the "right-hand man" of New York Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
  • Florida-26: This spot revives the GOP push to link Democrat Debbie Mucarsel-Powell to a "shady Ukranian militia leader" since her husband did work for companies with links to the leader. Mucarsel-Powell's campaign blasted the association when it first surfaced in July as too indirect.   
  • Virginia-02: Democrat Elaine Luria gets the generic Democrat treatment, as the new spot frames her as "too far left" for the district. 
  • Pennsylvania-01: The NRCC joins the pile on Democrat Scott Wallace, a favorite of Republican opposition researchers who have attacked him for donations from his family foundation. 
  • New Jersey-03: Democrat Andy Kim gets hit on opposing the tax cuts while the NRCC magnifies attacks levied by Kim's opponent, GOP Rep. Tom MacArthur, on his taxes. 

First Read's Top 10 Senate takeovers

After the Labor Day break and after a slew of new polls, we’ve updated our Top 10 Senate takeover list – based on the likelihood of the seat flipping parties. The first three races here are *slight* advantages for the challenger party. The next three are true 50-50 races or very close to it. And the final four are where the incumbent party has the *slight* advantage.

An important note: These rankings are based on where we see these races RIGHT NOW, and not based on what we think will happen two months from now.

  1. Nevada (R): Yes, yesterday’s Suffolk poll showed an essentially tied race between incumbent Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., and Democratic challenger Jacky Rosen. But when an incumbent is at 41 percent, he’s in big, big trouble (Previous ranking from May: 1)
  2. Arizona (R-open): Since the August primary, this has turned into the nastiest Senate race in the country, with Republicans and GOP nominee Marth McSally unloading all of their ammunition at Democrat Kyrsten Sinema. Will it work? (Previous ranking from May: 2)
  3. North Dakota (D): There’s been very little polling in this very small state since June, when Mason-Dixon found Republican Kevin Cramer leading Sen. Heidi Heitkamp by 4 points, 48 percent to 44 percent. We’ll give the GOP the benefit of the doubt – for now. (Previous ranking from May: 3)
  4. Missouri (D): As our NBC/Marist poll showed, this is a true 50-50 race. And when third-party candidates are introduced to the mix, you see that incumbent Sen. Claire McCaskill doesn’t need 50 percent to win. (Previous ranking from May: 5)
  5. Florida (D): The most recent Quinnipiac poll of this race also feels right – a tied race between incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., and term-limited Republican Gov. Rick Scott. And as one of us noted yesterday, ad spending since the primary is now even. (Previous ranking from May: 8)
  6. Tennessee (R-open): This is also close to a 50-50 race: Dem Phil Bredesen 48 percent, Republican Marsha Blackburn 46 percent, per last week’s NBC/Marist poll – in a state Trump won by 26 points in 2016. (Previous ranking from May: 4)
  7. Indiana (D): Now we’re getting outside the 50-50 zone, with Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., ahead in our NBC/Marist poll, though within the margin of error. (Previous ranking from May: 6)
  8. Montana (D): Republicans are increasingly bullish on their chances against Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont. But in this political environment? Even in Montana? (Previous ranking from May: 10)
  9. West Virginia (D): You know the Senate map has changed when this race almost doesn’t make our Top 10. GOP primary voters nominating Patrick Morrisey – and not Evan Jenkins – to face incumbent Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.V., might end up being one of the most consequential primary outcomes of the 2018 primary season. (Previous ranking from May: 7)
  10. Texas (R): Texas — yes, Texas — is the final takeover opportunity on our Top 10 list. The other possibility here was Wisconsin. But ask yourself: Which party is sending in the cavalry to help an incumbent – Democrats trying to rescue Tammy Baldwin, or Republicans trying to rescue Ted Cruz? And the answer is why Texas makes this list. (Previous ranking from May: unranked)

Other races to watch (in alphabetical order): Minnesota, Mississippi, New Jersey, Wisconsin.